The straight dope – performance enhancement drugs and the Olympics

Paul Raven @ 14-08-2008

syringe and ampoulesThe Beijing Olympic games are seeing a record-breaking achievement of a different kind – a round-the-clock lab team performing a greater number of tests for performance enhancing drugs, and more different types of tests, than ever before. And even so, the International Olympic Committee expect up to forty athletes to test positive for illicit substances. [image by happysnappr]

So – as suggested in the New York Times but originally proposed by bioethicists and other scientistswhy don’t we just do away with the restrictions entirely?

“… what we have now is not a level playing field. The system punishes some innocent athletes and rewards others with the savvy and the connections not to get caught. The more that the authorities crack down on known forms of enhancement, the more incentive athletes have to experiment with new ones — and to get their advice from black-market dealers instead of doctors.

[snip]

If elite adult athletes were allowed to push the limits of human performance in return for glory, they might point the way for lesser mortals to coax more out of their bodies. If a 50-year-old sprinter could figure out how to run as fast as her 25-year-old self, that could be useful to aging weekend warriors — or any aging couch potato.”

As I’ve suggested many times before to anyone foolish enough to ask my opinion about sports, the thing to do is create a separate league for athletes who enhance themselves, run it in parallel, and sit back to watch the viewing ratings. The noble myth of the natural athlete would die off pretty quick in the hard glare of economics, I’m thinking.

But I suspect that – as with the case of Oscar “Bladerunner” Pistoriuseconomics is the one big force keeping things the way they are. After all, Nike and Adidas and their ilk like to be able to claim that their clothing or footwear is what separates first place from first loser, rather than chemical [x] or prosthesis [y]… and they’ve got a lot of money to throw around in the process.

But would they have enough to hold out against Big Pharma, if they were allowed to join the contest?

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